Thursday, 27 February 2014

Flames of desire

Flames of Desire
You know, I got back on Tuesday night from a horrible weekend in Glasgow. I was visiting a friend in Lenzie who is in the midst of a family problem - his wife has fallen by the wayside. I thought I could help but he accused me of being a voyeur and a self-centred uncaring old fool (well that wasn't the word he used) who had come to gloat over his unhappiness - a similar description was used by commenter William Ballantyne after I published my great article about the Culloden housing approval. It has given me cause to reflect.

On the way back home the Scotrail Express pulled into Perth. I observed a group of Neds misbehaving on the platform outside my window. They pointed at me and started laughing - I knew what was going to happen next and I was right. One of the Neds got on the train and sat next to me. He was smelling to high heaven. I don't think his overcoat had been cleaned in years and he had obviously been drinking heavily and had probably vomited inside his coat. I felt nauseous all the way back home - I tried to cover my nostrils and breathe through my mouth but it didn't help. There ought to be a way for Scotrail to intercept these people before they get on a train. The young tyke had his headphones turned up so loud that I could scarcely hear myself think. It reminded me how much I dislike Perth and my mind turned to the seemingly endless campaigns by completely misguided people who are trying to save the dreadful Edwardian eyesore that is the City Hall.

Last week the Scotsman carried another article, this time around the idea of an indoor market and food hall. What's wrong with an outdoor market on the site? Another suggestion was a five-star hotel with 'fine-dining' with a rooftop terrace bar and restaurant. Well it wouldn't be much good if the dining wasn't fine but more obviously, if the building was demolished you could have a restaurant on the site without having to build a rooftop terrace. What the Scotsman needs is an Expert Planning Correspondent to guide them in these matters.

Of course it was inevitable that Prince Charles would become involved in this and to my mind, this is the perfect reason to demolish the building as soon as possible. He has no business getting involved in this fight for progress. I have complete faith that the forces of the New Scottish Enlightenment will triumph in this battle.

As the train wound its way north I closed my eyes and imagined the wrecking ball and bulldozers moving in on the City Hall. I saw masonry toppling and flames rising from piles of rotting timbers. I saw rats fleeing towards the river. I saw crowds booing as the Fire Brigade arrived. Suddenly my trousers were soaking wet - I awoke in a cold sweat. What had happened? The young ned had spilt a can of beer over my lovely green corduroy suit. 'Sorry Grandad - dae ye want some?' I was disgusted. I sat in silence - fuming! Eventually I got off and found the car but just to round off a terrible trip, it had a flat tyre and a parking ticket. I got back to Auchterness very late and leapt straight into the shower. Then I wrote to First Scotrail about this terrible experience - I will let you know the outcome in due course. I have also written to the Scotsman about the perils of giving oxygen to this ridiculous campaign to save Perth City Hall and offering my services as an Expert Planning Correspondent.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Trump will return

The brilliant Dr Donald Trump
The brilliant Dr Donald Trump
You know, I can't be bothered with these bleeting nanny-goats and busy-bodies who clutter up my inbox with complaints about things that are not their concern at all. I'm referring to planning applications that are granted against the wishes of bearded women and men wearing khaki shorts. They sit around in cafes all day, spinning a latte out for three hours, pretending to be working when in fact all they are doing is writing letters of complaint to me or their local council.

This week saw a predictable outbreak of activity regarding the decision by the Scottish Government - sorry I mean the Court of Session - to turn down Dr Donald Trump's challenge to stop an offshore windfarm being developed near God's Own Golf Course near Menie in Aberdeenshire.

As you know, I'm very fond of wind farms and I'm a great fan of Dr Donald so my loyalties are divided. I actually think that the Aberdeen Bay windfarm would be a wonderful complement to the new golf course. Just like having a skyscraper in the middle of Rubislaw or towering above the stuffy environment of Edinburgh New Town. Mind you, it takes an expert planner to think up these things as well as actually proposing them - which most ordinary planners would never do!

So I think Dr Donald has been worrying needlessly - I have written to advise him of this but he has been too busy to reply. However the threat to leave the country and head for the coast of Ireland has received much publicity. You know what? I don't care! He has done his job - Aberdeenshire has embarked on many new exciting projects as a result of his investment and the trickle down effect is startling evidence of his success. The man is a catalyst as we expert planners would say. Mind you I doubt that he will be gone for good - the man professed his love for Scotland some years ago so I expect that he will be back - have no fear.
West Dunbartonshire Council's amazing wheelchair ramp
West Dunbartonshire Council's amazing work

Just to finish, this wonderful wee story caught my eye earlier in the week. It's the work of one of Scotland's finest local authorities - the same folk who allegedly came up with the idea of selling off holes of their golf course to earn a bit of cash. Perhaps they will have the only seven-hole golf course in Scotland. You have to laugh.  Cheerie-bye for now.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Perth City Hall Again!

The derelict Perth City Hall
The derelict Perth City Hall
You know it's over two years since I wrote enthusiastically about Perth celebrating the 21st century by demolishing its City Hall. I'm disappointed to note this week from The Courier that this matter has still not been resolved. The ugly and unwanted building is still a major civic eyesore and a drain and the resources of all ratepayers in the Perth and Kinross Council area.

It is only a matter of time before this building disappears. If it has not been demolished by 18 September 2014 and if the vote on that day sees Scotland becoming an independent country,  the building will doubtless be set upon by a rampant mob of anti-royalists hellbent on ridding the nation of Edwardian excrescences.

I must say that I don't like Perth. Only last year as I was waiting for the train to Inverness, a young man exposed himself to me in the station's public toilets with the words "Here you are Grandad". I don't know if he worked for the Council or not but this seems likely -  it was a completely humiliating experience for me, especially as the incident was witnessed by at least six people who were also catching the same train.  They taunted me all the way to Inverness, laughing and giggling as I read the Moray Local Development Plan. So my views on the city and its essential redevelopment are inevitably coloured by the behaviour of this young pervert. I'm sorry to share this disturbing experience but it demonstrates the difficulty of being completely objective.

Anyway, I digress.  The Courier's article contains some of the worst examples of middle-class nosey-parkerism that I have ever seen or read. They have even enrolled a Native American from Idaho in an attempt to save the building - that sounds like desperation to me!  Soon Roy Rogers and Trigger or the Lone Ranger and Tonto will be called on to support the retention of this ridiculous structure. Perhaps it will be Mickey Mouse and Pluto - it really is so absurd. What is so special about someone from the wilds of America supporting the retention of a building that is preventing the proper development of a town centre site in Scotland. I honestly think the world has gone mad! This just wouldn't happen in Aberdeen! Or even Inverurie!!!

For the sake of sanity and good planning practice, I implore everyone with a sensible viewpoint to press the Tesco Button and blow this old hulk to Smithereens! Hopefully over the next few weeks I will be able to report back to you that common sense has prevailed and that Chief Planning Officer David Littlejohn has personally driven a bulldozer through this relic of the past!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Union Street to get an Umbrella!

Halliday Fraser Muro's dramatic proposals  for Union Street, Aberdeen - fantastic!
Halliday Fraser Munro's dramatic proposals
for Union Street, Aberdeen - fantastic!
You know, I wasn't surprised to read last week that most of Scotland's main streets have terrible air quality and are heavily polluted. This information comes from Friends of the Earth Scotland who are a bunch of middle-class sandal-wearing do-gooders. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read and incredibly important for most expert planners - like me.

Streets in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth and Paisley are all listed in the FOE league tables with Hope Street in Glasgow topping the table. Union Street in Aberdeen comes in at ninth which is incredibly disappointing - I expected it to be at number one as a result of the rich food eaten by Councillors at their many receptions, the beer intake of rig workers and the sheep that are herded through this famous street on a regular basis.

Seriously though, if you set this information beside what the Scottish Government are saying about town centres through the Sir Malcolm Fraser Commission it's another devastating blow for the dreary environment called the Traditional High Street. As a concept it is completely dead - as a reality, FOE say it could be fatal!

Now as you know, I'm a big fan of Halliday Fraser Munro, the Aberdeen based firm of architects who have been responsible for almost everything good that has been proposed for the Silver City this century. When John Halliday waves his big pencil around you just know that things are going to be exciting! So when he revealed his latest proposals for Union Street to an awe-struck world I'm sure many architects who have been grieving since the death of their hero Le Corbusier many decades ago sat up and took notice. Indeed Big John has the answer to the polluted streets problem wrapped up!

HFM are proposing that the street becomes an indoor shopping mall - but with taxis (electric I'm sure). It's a stroke of genius isn't it? There will be a clear "umbrella" canopy cover Union Street which will light-up at night - a bold idea and one that will save the Council a fortune in street lighting. Taxis will be protected from the rain and wind.  Destitute single parents, beggars and the bone idle will celebrate and make Union Street their home!
Another view of the fantastic proposals for Union Street  by Halliday Fraser Munro
Another view of the fantastic proposals for Union Street
by Halliday Fraser Munro

So if you want to join them for a night out, imagine this! You will be sitting in the middle of Union Street surrounded by seagulls sheltering from the rain. You will be tucking in to your Curried Stovies and Brose, washed down with a nice pint of heavy. You may be admiring a nice plump farmer's wife over a skinny latte. To your left are some fishermen fighting outside a bar. An ambulance arrives to remove the injured. A Jimmy Shand Tribute Band playing across the street drowns out the screams of pain. To your right, a bunch of neds from Mastrick are shooting up in the doorway of a bookies. You pay the bill and ask for a taxi. Moments later it stops at your table! You glide down the street in the back of the cab while people gesticulate and shout insults at you. It's incredibly convenient and a brand new take on eating out and getting home quickly!

Yet again we see Aberdeen leading the field in planning innovation. Lifts and escalators will provide pedestrian links to indoor shopping malls at Union Square, Trinity Centre, Bon Accord Centre and St Nicholas Centre. In fact all the worthwhile places in the city will be covered over. It will be a shoplifter's paradise. My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this exciting proposal. It gets a gold star and a big tick in my little black book.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Timidity of Caltongate

The disappointing Caltongate proposal  - with some very badly dressed people
The disappointing Caltongate proposal
- with some very badly dressed people
You know, when @IsobelGlenelg threw down a challenge to me on Twitter this week, demanding my view on the Caltongate decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to grant permission for a £150m redevelopment of the slums at the heart of the historic Old Town, I could hardly resist.

This development has a long history of course and I have avoided saying much about it in the past as I genuinely feared for my personal safety given the wrath of the Edinburgh conservation lobby. Now I don't care - their day is over - and if Scotland becomes independent I'm sure they will be shipped out to Rockall in their khaki shorts to consort with seagulls over EU fishing quotas or some other pointless itch that they need to scratch till it bleeds.

So let's be clear about some points from my expert planner viewpoint. This is a derelict site, a dreadful eyesore and a disgrace to the Capital City. I understand that the operators of trains from the south have considered asking passangers to pull down their window blinds as they pass the site. In contrast to Aberdeen, Edinburgh is a poor city, full of ne'er-do-wells and drunks with all sorts of unspeakable habits and undesirable diseases. It has always been that way. But there is a core of snobs and middle class do-gooders who live in elite enclaves far away from Caltongate. There, they make homemade bread and gossip in fu-fu cafes, talking about nothing that matters! My point is that this development is nothing whatsoever to do with them and their pathetic bourgeois lives yet they think they should be involved or think they can somehow contribute! They are the Enemies of Enterprise! They should be prevented from commenting or interfering in any way in the progress of this development - and all other major developments in the Capital!

But now that the deveopment has been approved I must admit to being very disappointed with the outcome. I would describe it as timid. There is far too much reference to historical forms and street patterns, too many pitched roofs and tumbledown-the-hill pseudo-organic street frontages that try to emulate the dreary appearance of the Old Town. A capitulation in my view!
Just look at the trees growing out of the roofs - it's derelict already
Just look at the trees growing out of the roofs
- it's derelict already!

Just look at all these buildings with trees growing out of their roofs! This is a clever architectural reference to many of the surrounding derelict properties with bushes growing in chimney stacks and in gutters but it makes me long for something contemporary and unmistakably modern. The architect for this development is someone called Allan Murray who I have never heard of - and I can see why! Wouldn't it have been much better if Keppies or Halliday Fraser Munro had been involved in this? I'm sure John Halliday could have brought out his big pencil and come out with something better. It's a disgrace to rail travellers as well as an insult to the poor workmen on the railway passing the site.

On the positive side though it looks as if something will happen here at last that will make the developer a bit of cash and the trickle down effect from that will mean that odd-jobbers and tradesmen in the areas will be employed on building it while others will get low paid jobs serving in the cafes and leisure uses that will inevitably fill the development. I'm sure the RTPI Scotland will claim that planners have played an important role in "enabling" this - that is recommending that permission be granted. Such is their reduced role in the 21st century. So apart from some disappointment over details, my hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this development.